I first learned of Victor Klemperer’s The Language of the Third Reich in a column Mike Godwin of Godwin’s Law (“As an online discussion continues, the probability of a comparison to Hitler or to Nazis approaches one”) wrote in June 2018 in the LA Times (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-godwin-godwins-law-20180624-story.html).
Godwin quoted Klemperer on how, at the beginning of the Nazi regime, he “was still so used to living in a state governed by the rule of law” that he couldn’t imagine the horrors yet to come. “Regardless of how much worse it was going to get,” he added, “everything which was later to emerge in terms of National Socialist attitudes, actions and language was already apparent in embryonic form in these first months.” Klemperer was, by training, a philologist, the study of language in oral and written historical sources; it is a combination of literary criticism, history, and linguistics, and kept a diary throughout the Third Reich which I’ve always meant to read.
This is a good introduction to Klemperer and seems to be very apt in these days when the public discourse is full of misinformation, propaganda, and outright downright lies. Klemperer classified the language of the Third Reich as LTI [Lingua Tertii Imperii]. Very interesting book which I’m still digesting. Thanks Mike Godwin.
The Language of the Third Reich by Victor Klemperer
NY: Continuum Books, 2000
(page 14) Words can be like tiny doses of arsenic: they are swallowed unnoticed, appear to have no effect, and then after a little time the toxic reaction sets in after all. If someone replaces the words ‘heroic’ and ‘virtuous’ with ‘fanatical’ for long enough, he will come to believe that a fanatic really is a virtuous hero, and that no one can be a hero without fanaticism.
(21) One of their banners contends that ‘You are nothing, your people is everything.’ Which means that you are never alone with yourself, never alone with your nearest and dearest, you are always being watched by your own people.
The sole purpose of the LTI [Lingua Tertii Imperii] is to strip everyone of their individuality, to paralyse them as personalities, to make them into unthinking and docile cattle in a herd driven and hounded in a particular direction, to turn them into atoms in a huge rolling block of stone. The LTI is the language of mass fanaticism. When it addresses the individual – and not just his will but also his intellect – where it educates, it teaches means of breeding fanaticism and techniques of mass suggestion.
(24) But clichés do indeed soon take hold of us. ‘Language which writes and thinks for you….’
NB: Listen for how often clichés and buzzwords become common among politicians and pundits and the public
(201) But did the Americans and the Nazis really go in for the same kind of intemperance when it came to numbers and figures? I already had my doubts at the time. Wasn’t there a bit of humour in the thirty feet of intestines, couldn’t one always sense a certain straightforward naivety in the exaggerated figures of American adverts? Wasn’t it as if the advertiser was saying to himself each time: you and I, dear reader, derive the same pleasure from exaggeration, we both know how it’s meant – so I’m not really lying at all, you subtract what matters and my eulogy isn’t deceitful, it simply makes a greater impression and is more fun if it’s expressed as a superlative?
… It may well be that the LTI learned from American customs when it came to the use of figures, but it differs from them hugely and twice over: not only through exorbitant use of the superlative, but also through its deliberate maliciousness, because it is invariably and unscrupulously intent on deception and benumbing.
NB: Barnum from The Humbugs of the World: An Account of Humbugs, Delusions, Impositions, Quackeries, Deceits and Deceivers Generally, in All Ages: “But need I explain to my own beloved countrymen that there is humbug in politics? Does anybody go into a political campaign without it? are no exaggerations of our candidate’s merits to be allowed? no depreciations of the other candidate? Shall we no longer prove that the success of the party opposed to us will overwhelm the land in ruin?”
Trmp (or Tony Schwartz) from The Art of the Deal: “The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion.”